'Failures in Fundamental Controls' - Report on Fraud at Dundee City Council

Regular readers will remember the case of former Dundee City Council employee Mark Conway who stole over £1 million from Dundee City Council.  Monday evening's meeting of the City Council dealt with  a report produced by the Accounts Commission on this.
This is a report which every councillor and every citizen of Dundee should  be very very concerned about.
We need to start by being clear that one person, Mark Conway, is guilty in this and he was convicted in court.  But we should also be very concerned about a report which says that 'failures in fundamental controls within the council allowed this fraud to continue over a prolonged period.'

As a councillor I need to be able to trust the advice that I am given by officers.  I need to know that financial statements are accurate.  The report by the Accounts Commission demonstrates that this has not always been the case.
As councillors we need reassurance from officers that there will be no repeat of this.  We need reassurance that this cannot happen again.  We also need to know why auditors did not pick this up.

We also need a reassurance that council cuts did not contribute to this and allow one member of staff to accumulate a number of permissions and checks and balances were not in place.  The report points out that the individual concerned built up lots of responsibility over the years and was one of very few individuals who understood the systems.  The lack of segregation of duties allowed him to produce fraudulent invoices, pay them and then hide the evidence.  Despite strenuous denials from officers I find it hard to believe that the cuts which have led to fewer and fewer people working for the council did not contribute to this fraud.

At the Scrutiny Committee I proposed that the committee went further and wrote to the bank and building society concerned and the Treasury as well as the Gambling Commission and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.
To say that I am disappointed with the responses would be an understatement.  We expect regulators to assist us.  In this case I feel that we did not get the protection that we could have expected from the banks, building societies, Financial Conduct Authority and the Treasury.  Neither did we get protection from the gambling firm William Hill, the Gambling Commission or DCMS.
In these times of austerity imposed on Dundee City Council by the UK and Scottish Governments why did these organisations not help us through their regulatory powers?
With regard to gambling I think that we should have a look at the support which the council gives and supports across the city to problem gamblers.  It strikes me that the gambling industry looks upon the occasional fine or ex-gratia payment as part of the cost of doing business.  Perhaps we should be stricter, perhaps we should question whether William Hill is a fit and proper organisation to hold a licence within the city.  I will certainly be making the case for more regulation of gambling.
What we need to know is that lessons have been learnt and officers have taken all appropriate actions to protect the public purse in the future.


Protect Dundee's Fire Stations

Balmossie Fire Station
Kingsway East Fire Station

McAlpine Road Fire Station

Blackness Fire Station

I've called for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to protect fire stations in Dundee.  The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) arecurrently consulting on their future.  The consultation contains references to changing the fire station footprint.  Dundee City Council was due to decide on its response to the consultation last night but in light of the detailed amendments which I put forward they have postponed the decision until 14 May.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service consultation is incredibly short on detail and full of leading phrases. Who could be opposed to firefighters being given modern equipment to do their jobs, for example.  Worryingly though much of the consultation appears to be cover for cuts.  The headline issue is an apparent 20% pay rise for firefighters but there would be fewer firefighters and they would be doing an awful lot more than they do today.

There are suggestions that firefighters should respond to medical emergencies.  That is fine but it should be additional to the resources available at the moment through the Scottish Ambulance Service and the NHS not instead of it.

Most worryingly the document contains references to ‘reviewing’ the fire station footprint across Scotland.  The proposal put forward by the SNP Administration said that it was broadly supportive of proposals put forward by SFRS.  I was worried that this would be interpreted as support for changes to fire stations in Dundee.  On Tayside Fire and Rescue Board I was proud to have played a part, with others, in stopping plans to downgrade Balmossie Fire Station not once but twice.  I believe that Dundee City Council must make clear its opposition to any changes to fire stations in Dundee.  That is what I will be looking for when this item comes back to councillors.

Fr James Shine 100th Anniversary

A portrait of Fr James Shine in uniform along with a prayer card produced after Fr Shine's Death
The War Memorial at St Joseph's on Sunday
with floral tributes to Fr Shine and the over
200 others mentioned on the tablet
On Sunday I was pleased to be able to join the congregation at St Joseph's Church in Wilkie's Lane as they marked the one hundredth anniversary of the death of Fr James Shine.  Fr Shine had served as one of the priests at St Joseph's in 1914 and 1915.  Fr Shine was born in County Tipperary and was a priest of the Irish Diocese of Waterford and Lismore on loan to the Diocese of Dunkeld working in Dundee at the time he joined up.  He died in Boulogne on 21st April 1918 from wounds received whilst ministering to soldiers in his role as a British Army chaplain in World War I.

Fr Shine's story is one that should be more widely known.  Many people will be surprised to hear about this Irishman who volunteered to serve in the British forces during this turbulent time in relations between Ireland and Britain.

Whilst Fr Shine died 100 years ago I think that we should remember the sacrifice that he made. We should also look at that War Memorial at St Joseph's and the names of all those men who lived in the streets around the West End and resolve to do all we can to say never again.

As some readers will know I have studied the impact of the Irish on Dundee. In the course of that I was lucky enough to meet Fr Shine's great-nephew, Sean Murphy, who has done a lot to promote the memory of Fr Shine.

I would also like to draw attention to the excellent work done by the Great War Dundee Group in looking at all aspects of the First World War in Dundee.


Welcome for low-carbon commitment

I welcome the fact that Dundee City Council’s Policy and Resources Committee agreed to my amendment to commit Dundee City Council to redirect resources to low-carbon activities.  The amendment was to a report entitled Sustainable Dundee and the amendment sets a direction of travel for the council in the future.

I welcomed the Sustainable Dundee report which was before us, it covered a lot of important areas and brought together a lot of the work which the council is doing.  There was an excellent deputation from Mary Henderson of Friends of the Earth Tayside.  After listening to Mrs Henderson I felt that she had made a strong case for an amendment about the future direction of travel of the council with regard to low-carbon activities.

My amendment said ‘Where possible funds should be redirected from high-carbon activities to low-carbon sustainable and renewable activities and where funds are spent outside Dundee they should be redirected from high-carbon activities to low-carbon and renewable activities.’  This is about promoting a direction of travel for the council.

The council is the custodian of the resources of the citizens of Dundee and it is important that we are able to hand on the resources to our successors both in terms of cash, facilities and the environment.  I hope that this way of thinking will influence council thinking in terms of future policies.

I think that protecting our environment is important and I will work with anyone to help protect it.  It is crucial that we plan for a future low-carbon economy which protects jobs and services.  We need to invest in a workforce which is ready for this next stage of economic development.


Consultation on Car Parking Permit Scheme Essential

Let me be very clear I support residents’ parking schemes for people who live on the periphery of the city centre.  I know as a resident in the West End and a local councillor that people are frustrated that they cannot find a car parking space close to their house.

I am glad that at the meeting of the City Development Committee on Monday evening that the proposals put forward by the SNP Administration were amended.  The proposals put forward were designed to fail.  Along with my ward colleague Bailie Macpherson I amended the proposals so that there will be meaningful consultation on them.  I also think that it is important that the consultation includes the issue of cost.  The previous proposals were rejected due to the cost being too high at £80.  I understand that £62 is slightly cheaper but I still worry that it is too much to pay and still not be guaranteed a car parking place at all never mind close to your house.

I also know that as well as the cost people rejected previous proposals because they were a one-size-fits-all proposal.  The proposals before the council on Monday evening were a one-size-fits-all.  I think that the solution is for more bespoke fixes rather than a blanket scheme across large areas of the city.

My amendment was designed to help implement this policy.  The proposals suggest that the way to lodge an objection is by objecting to the Traffic Regulation Order.  This is not the way to gauge public opinion on this matter.  People who are in favour of residents’ parking scheme might object to the specific detail of the Traffic Regulation Order and therefore be counted as an objector to the scheme.  That is surely not what was intended.

 I am clear that in the areas near the city centre there is an issue that local residents would like to see dealt with.  Local councillors who I have spoken to all recognise that this is an issue.  I want to help the council and the people in Maryfield, Coldside and the West End wards get a policy that will work.

The report presented on Monday night says that this policy should be brought forward on a cost neutral basis.  That is not the policy of the council, it may be the preference of the SNP Administration.  The council has other parking schemes which do not work on that basis.  In Menzieshill there is a residents' car parking scheme which costs £8 per year.  I cannot see any justification that would suggest that the West End, Coldside or Maryfield wards should be different.

This is why I think that a full and meaningful consultation must also consult on the cost of the scheme. This committee should be presented with a number of alternatives.

Dundee City Council is currently pointing out how marvellous consultation is.  Dundee Decides is being held up as a great innovation.  I want to argue for more consultation on budgets.  I am also clear that this policy will fail if there is not a full and meaningful consultation on it.  Whilst I am pleased about the result of the meeting on Monday evening I will be watching to make sure that the consultation is as full and meaningful as it can be.

I would also point out that there was nothing in the report presented to the committee which aims to reduce the reliance on the motor vehicle.  I suspect all of us rely on the car too much, and I include myself in that.  I think that any plan for a residents’ car parking scheme needs to look at demand and find ways to reduce it.

I want to help Dundee City Council get to the point where we have a residents’ car parking scheme which works for people in the West End, Coldside and Maryfield wards.  I do not think that the proposal presented by the Convener on Monday evening would have achieved that and therefore I was pleased that the committee agreed to support the amendment put forward.


Welcome for plans to mark heritage of former St Joseph's School SIte

At this week's meeting of the City Development Committee there was an item which sought to name the street at the development of houses at the new development on the former St Joseph's Primary School site.

In the past couple of months as work has taken place to knock down the old building a number of former pupils have spoken to me about their wish for the history of the site to be acknowledged.  I raised this with the City Development Department asked for my views on the street name I made my view known that I think that it should reference the former use of the site.  Therefore I was glad when the proposed name suggested was St Joseph's Court.  I think that this will allow the history of the site and the over eighty years of education to be marked.   I am glad to say that the new school is going from strength to strength on its new site but I felt it was important to acknowledge the history and heritage of this site.


Welcome for Community Asset remaining in community ownership

On Monday evening Dundee City Council considered a report on the proposals to build an AC Marriott Hotel at Site 6 in the Waterfront near to the V & A.  I welcomed the report mostly because the council was retaining ownership.  This is the sort of thing that the Co-operative Party and people like John McDonnell have in mind when they  discuss things like Community Wealth Building.

I warmly welcome this report and want to stress how much the Labour Group supports Dundee City Council retaining ownership of the assets being developed at the Waterfront.

I think that it is very important that the council does retain an element of ownership in parts of the Waterfront.  That way, the people of Dundee will get some benefit from it.  It is important that the assets of the Waterfront continue to produce wealth for the community and it is good to see that the plan isn't to sell the assets off to some off-shore corporation that won't pay tax in Scotland, or possibly anywhere.

I hope that further proposals in Dundee will continue in this way.  It is a way of ensuring that some of the wealth created by these developments stays within the city and is of benefit to the many, rather than just the shareholders.


Dundee City Council Budget - A Missed Opportunity

Let’s start by being honest about what was before us at the Dundee City  Council budget meeting last week.  We had a deal which in January the whole council said was not fair for Dundee, despite the intervention of the Green Party it is still not a fair settlement for Dundee, for our citizens or for our workforce.

The blame for austerity lies in Westminster.  Austerity is a choice made by the Conservative Government.  It is passed on to Holyrood where the Scottish Government refuses to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to their full extent and passes on disproportionate cuts to local government.  Dundee City Council is then left with a really poor set of circumstances which annoy councillors but which much more importantly have a real impact on the people of Dundee.

The staff of Dundee City Council do an excellent job.  I hope that workers do get a pay rise, but we must also recognise that even if the settlements are more like the Scottish Government want around 3% and not what the trade unions are looking for, these still are not fully funded which means that they will have an impact on services.  So we are in the bizarre position that a pay rise for workers means a cut in services.

I welcome the extra investment for vulnerable children in the budget.  I hope that it does cover the cost pressures because it is unacceptable that year, after year, after year the budget in this area has been wrong.  We need to get in right for these young people and make sure that they are given the best start in life.

The proposals put forward by the Labour Group were innovative and intended to use the powers of the council to make a difference in Dundee.  They were intended to say that poverty and inequality are wrong and that we won’t just complain about it we will try and do something about it.

Last week the council heard the case eloquently put by representatives of the workforce in social care about the problems they face.  I am glad that changes were not forced through and I am also clear that any proposal which imposes split shifts or cuts in hours is unacceptable.

Labour put forward a plan which would have allowed those social care workers to do the job they want to do.  Allow them to spend longer with service-users and make a real difference to their lives.  We thought that this extra funding could have focused on trying to stop hospital readmissions.  The revolving door is good for no-one.  We need to recognise that there is one public purse and cuts to the council which lead to extra spending in the NHS are daft.

We also proposed to bring forward a plan to give access to sports and cultural facilities to disadvantaged young people in the city.  This is a big year for Dundee with the V & A opening and a focus on the city.  With Dundee being lauded around the world.  But this must be a big year for everyone in the city not just those who can afford it.  We need to make sure that the regeneration of our city is for everyone and not just a privileged few.  The Waterfront regeneration will be an abject failure if it doesn’t help everyone in the city.

We want to see fairness at the heart of what we do.  That is why Labour wanted to halt the increase in the cost of school meals and at the same time invest in a fairness fund that would allow work to be done to find a means of delivering a good quality meal to disadvantaged youngsters all year round. 

A number of SNP councillors said that they thought some of our proposals were interesting but they could not vote for them because they had not had enough time to analyse them.  We offered them time at the meeting to analyse our proposals.  We are prepared to give them to the SNP administration because we think that they will make a real difference to the city of Dundee.  We are not even looking for credit for bringing these forward

We want to make a real difference and deliver a budget for the many not the few.


Dundee Needs a Better Deal

On Monday evening Dundee City Council's Policy & Resources Committee looked at the forthcoming budget process.  A paper was produced which showed that the council needs to find a further £15.7 million of savings this year.  This is on top of the something like £100 million which has been taken out of the council's budget over the last ten years or so.  The report can be found at pages 1-9 here.

The Labour Group felt that the paper only told us the facts of the situation and that we needed to make clear that we did not think that we should meekly accept more cuts for Dundee.  We continue to support COSLA's viewpoint that we need a fair settlement for local government and that this settlement isn't fair.

Therefore on behalf of the Labour Group Kevin Keenan put forward the amendment below:

'That Committee believes that the detailed settlement laid out in the report does not represent a fair deal for the people of Dundee or for local government in Scotland as a whole, notes that there is no current majority in the Scottish Parliament for the budget, resolves to stand by the cross party stance set out by COSLA and in doing so make joint representation across all political groups on the council to the Finance Secretary and the leaders of all parties in the Scottish Parliament ahead of the next budget vote calling for a fair deal for local government funding in order to avoid damaging cuts in local services. '

We were very pleased to see that the amendment was accepted by the entire council.  I spoke in the debate and pointed out that this was not about party political point scoring but rather was about doing what was right for the people of Dundee.  It is easy for politicians and political activists to make barnstorming speeches about the faults of others but we must be clear that the issues here about real people with real problems.  For example, there are people in Dundee using foodbanks; there are people in Dundee sleeping rough and there are people struggling to heat their homes - these (and many others) are the people who need Dundee City Council to get a fair settlement.  These are the people who need the council to provide services for them.

We should be clear that the days when we can say that there is fat to cut from councils were probably never true and they certainly aren't true now.  The proposed cuts will have a detrimental impact on communities and on the economy of Dundee.  If a company with  a turnover of £15.7 million was threatening to close then there would be much hand-wringing from politicians and campaigns would be started to stop the closure, well these cuts to Dundee City Council's budget should be treated in the same way.

I was pleased that Dundee City Council spoke with one voice about this important issue on Monday night, now we need action at Holyrood which gives Dundee a better deal.


Call for Council Action over RBS Closures

As Dundee Labour’s City Development spokesperson, along with my colleague the Labour councillor for the Maryfield Ward Councillor Georgia Cruickshank we have joined forces to raise concerns about the future of Royal Bank of Scotland branches in Dundee.  We're are calling on Dundee City Council to use its position as a customer of RBS to put pressure on the bank to retain services in Dundee.


Councillor Richard McCready said, ‘It is a disgrace that the publicly owned RBS is continuing to abandon communities across Dundee as they already have done in the West End.  Dundee City Council banks with the RBS and I think we should be looking to see what leverage there is within that contract to put pressure on RBS to keep their Stobswell branch open.  At the very least I want the council to make sure that when the banking contract is renewed in 2019 there is a robust community benefit section in the contract.  This would call on whichever bank won that contract to undertake to protect services to the community in Dundee and I would hope to include a promise not to close branches within the city.  I would also be looking for the bank to deliver support for organisations like Discovery Credit Union.  I would want to make sure that who ever the council banks with that promoting financial inclusion is an important part of the social benefits promoted through the contact.'


'I will be writing to the council's Chief Executive to ask that the council makes its voice heard and joins the local community in saying to RBS that this is not good enough and that they should change their mind about closing the branch in Stobswell.'


Councillor Georgia Cruickshank said, ‘I know from the Stobswell Forum and from speaking to local people that they are concerned about the prospect of the RBS branch closing.  The bank branch brings people to the area and this helps other local businesses.  I know that a number of businesses in the Stobswell area are struggling and it is important that we do all that we can to promote the area.  It is disappointing to find out that the council banks with RBS at a time when RBS are planning to close the branch in Stobswell.  I am calling on the council to make its voice heard and tell RBS that as a major customer in the city we are not happy at their plans to close the Stobswell branch.’



Free Wi-fi for the people

At the City Development Committee this week there was a report about delivering a strong free Wi-Fi system in the Waterfront. I recognise that there is a need for this development and I welcome it.  We also need to ensure that free Wi-Fi is available in the city centre and in the district shopping areas such as the Perth Road.

We also need to ensure that free Wi-Fi is available across the city.  There are great computing facilities as well as free Wi-Fi in our network of community libraries.  The libraries are not open all the time, though.  Given that what is wrongly called Welfare Reform is impacting on people across the city and that people are made to account for their activity online we should look at making sure that all the communities of Dundee have access to good quality free Wi-Fi.  Why not aim to be the most connected city in Scotland and have the most extensive free Wi-Fi network.

It is all very well offering free Wi-Fi to shoppers and tourists but all the people of Dundee including those living in areas of deprivation should benefit from this sort infrastructure as well as the many tourists that we hope will come to Dundee.  I would like to see free Wi-Fi as a benefit to all Dundonians, it should be available for the many not just the few visiting the city.


Time for the People's Bus

The People's Bus from West End Labour & Co-op on Vimeo.

At Monday evening's City Development Committee there was a report which considered the council's response to Transport Scotland's consultation on the future of the bus industry. The legacy of bus deregulation from the 1980s is heard everytime a constituent complains to councillors about the bus service in their area.

I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government have undertaken to look at the future of the bus industry and legislate in the near future.

I have been campaigning on these issues for some time now.  The video at the top of the page is from earlier in the year and deals with some of the issues around buses which people in the West End have raised with me.

I think that we should be clear that the council’s inability to direct bus operators is a disgrace.  A disgrace given the level of support that the council gives to bus services in Dundee.  Maintaining bus stops, promoting bus use.  Yet we have little or no say over how the buses are run.  At present when we are consulted on changes to bus services, it is really about giving the council notice of things that are happening, rather than giving us the chance to influence a decision.

Two clicks from the Dundee City Council website gets you to the websites of commercial bus operators.  I am not aware of other commercial bodies which the council facilitates in such a way.

I welcome the City Council’s response to the consultation.  We need effective partnerships with bus companies.  I would welcome local franchising, this is how the bus service runs in London and whilst it is not without its problems, it is an effective network.  I strongly welcome the chance for the council to directly run services. 

Sharing data is hugely important to allow us to deliver the best service possible for the people of Dundee.

We need a bus system which serves the interests of people not one which merely serves the interests of the shareholders.  We need a bus service which is just that a service rather than run solely in the interests of the shareholders.


Fair Funding for Essential Services

On Monday night at the council's Policy & Resources Committee there was an item setting out where the council is in terms of budgets.  The UK Budget was announced last month and the Scottish Budget will be announced in Holyrood on Thursday of this week.

The report  produced by the council's Executive Director of Corporate Services suggests that over the next three years the council may need to cut as much as £70 million from our budgets.  This is a frightening prospect, this would have an impact, as previous cuts already have had, on people right across Dundee and on the health of the economy of our city.

The Conservative Group put forward an amendment which laid the blame for the financial situation at the door of the SNP Scottish Government.

The truth, of course, is somewhat different.  The UK Government has chosen the path of austerity.  A political choice by the Conservative Government.  The Scottish Government has largely acted as a conveyer belt for austerity and passed on Tory cuts especially to local government. A political choice by the SNP Government.

On behalf of the Labour Group I made clear that we would be looking to work with anyone to protect jobs and services in Dundee.  Comment was made last night that the Conservative amendment was merely designed to embarrass the SNP.  I do hope that the Conservatives were not just trying to embarrass the SNP and I also hope that the SNP's biggest issue is not to avoid being embarrassed.  I made the point that this is much more important than petty point scoring.  Decisions made at the Budget in Dundee City Council have a real impact on the lives of real people in Dundee.  This is far too important to play games with.  All of us who are councillors have a duty to do what we can to deliver the best outcome to the people of Dundee.

COSLA, the Scottish local government body, has put forward a very interesting case for council's delivering essential services.  I think too often we are apologetic about what local government does. As COSLA say local government is democratically elected and provides a breadth of essential services to Dundee's communities which; support and protect all in our society; tackle inequalities; promote a fairer Scotland through inclusive growth; local government creates opportunities for every citizen which strengthen communities.  Local Government in Dundee is a key economic driver in the city and we should not be ashamed of that we should rather celebrate this.

The Leader of the Council said that he had already made representations to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance about the deal for Dundee.  I welcomed that and asked that he, in the spirit of openness and transparency, share the representations he has made.

The Labour Group is clear that we will work to achieve the best outcome for our city, we will work with other parties on the council and outwith the Council Chamber with trade unions and the communities of Dundee to deliver the best deal we can aimed at protecting jobs and services.

Last night we saw an early outbreak of 'it wisnae me' syndrome, with the Conservative Group in denial about the impact of ongoing austerity on the people of Dundee and likewise the SNP Group in denial about the impact of the conveyor-belt of austerity that the Scottish Government has become.

It is ironic, of course, that the Scottish Government has so-far refused to use the full powers of the Scottish Parliament to provide more resources for local government yet it is the same Scottish Government which complains about councils who didn't use their full powers to raise the Council Tax by 3% last year.  Those councils who didn't use their full powers include the then SNP-majority-led Dundee City Council who pushed through a 2.5% increase despite there being a proposal from Labour to increase the Council Tax by 3%.

The Labour Group will work with others to deliver the best deal for Dundee but we need the other parties to be bold and ambitious for Dundee.  We need the other parties to be prepared to stand-up to their political masters in Holyrood or Westminster and put the interests of Dundee first.

I am clear, as are my Labour colleagues, that we were elected to deliver the best services we can for the people of Dundee.  That is out priority.  We are not mere pawns in political game of chess.  Our duty is to do what we think is best for Dundee not what we think will please our political parties or go down well at a party meeting .

Labour is up for the challenge and we hope that all other councillors are as well.


End Period Poverty

Monica Lennon receiving support from Dundee University and DUSA
for her proposed bill 
Today is the final day of the consultation on the Members' Bill put forward by Monica Lennon MSP on the issue of period poverty.  I have responded to the consultation indicating my support for this proposal.

Menstruation is a natural bodily function for women.  Sanitary products are important for maintaining health.  The fact that cost can determine whether some women are able to afford these essentials is wrong.  I support this proposed legislation because of this, it is important that we find a way of providing access to sanitary products in such a way that involves no stigma.

As the local councillor I was really pleased last week to see the University of Dundee and DUSA supported the proposal and are also providing free sanitary products before the Scottish Government implements a policy to provide free sanitary products in educational establishments.

A number of retailers have been looking at ways of assisting with this issue and, for example, the Co-operative Group has undertaken to pay the VAT on sanitary products.  Scotmid Co-operative and others have supported organisations such as Positive Steps to provide hygiene packs for the homeless.  I hope that this proposal will be taken forward in the Scottish Parliament.


Life chances for young people - wake up call for Dundee

I was really concerned to read the recent report of the Commission on Social Mobility.  The report highlighted that unfortunately Dundee still lags behind in terms of the life chances of the young people in our city.  There are still huge discrepancies between the educational performance of the poorest and the most well-off in our city for example.  This report should be a wake-up call to all of us in Dundee. A lot of good work has been done, for example, in the Fairness Commission, but it is clear that we need to do much more.

We must make Dundee a real Living Wage City. That means that we should be saying that companies will not get any public contracts unless they pay the Living Wage including to sub-contractors. Dundee City Council should be leading a city-wide campaign to make all employers Living Wage employers.

The education statistics are very concerning. We should be doing all that we can to even up the playing field, so that every child in Dundee has the right to achieve their potential. Far too often the life chances of young people in our city are determined at a very early age, this is unacceptable. All of us in the city should want the very best for every child in the city.

I accept that many of these problems have been around for a long time but we cannot allow this situation to continue. Policy should be directed at improving the life chances of every young person in Dundee. Every child in Dundee should have the ability to reach their potential. When it comes to the council's budget I hope that every elected member will reflect on these statistics. Collectively every party represented on the City Council has failed some of the young people of Dundee. We should remember that when the council makes cuts it has a real impact on the lives of real people. The young people of Dundee deserve the best chance in life the council should work together to make sure that we are investing in education, especially in early years, to make a real difference to the life chances of every young person in Dundee.

It is not good enough to shrug our shoulders and move on - we need action to make Dundee, Scotland and the United Kingdom a fairer place.


Don't cut Bus Pass Entitlement

I'm campaigning for better bus services

I was pleased that Dundee City Council spoke with one voice recently against the proposals by the Scottish Government to raise the age for entitlement for free bus passes. (pages 16-33)

The Council has vowed to fight Transport Minister Humza Yousaf’s plan to change the age at which people are eligible for a free bus pass, branding it “unwelcome” because of the city’s “high levels of deprivation”. 

Despite promising to protect the pass in its 2016 manifesto, the SNP Government has cut £9.5 million from the bus pass budget and is consulting on the future of the scheme. 

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the Transport Minister have both repeatedly refused to rule out raising the qualifying age from 60 to 65.

Under the SNP, there has been a decade of decline in bus services with: 

•             Bus passenger journey numbers down by 78 million

•             Nearly 70 million vehicle kilometres stripped out of the bus network

•             The number of bus routes registered with the Traffic Commissioner down by a fifth.

Scottish Labour introduced concessionary travel for older people and disabled people in 2006 and 1.3 million people benefit from the free bus pass.

My friend and colleague Neil Bibby MSP who Scottish Labour’s Transport spokesperson, has said:

“A Labour government introduced the free bus pass, allowing older people and disabled people the freedom to travel where they choose. 

“We will fight the SNP's cuts to the bus pass – and it is welcome that SNP councillors are finally realising the damage raising the bus pass age would do too. 

“The SNP has already cut £10 million from the bus pass budget and now it's consulting on plans to cut back eligibility and restrict the number of people who will get the free bus pass in future.

“In its 2016 manifesto the SNP promised that the bus pass would continue and said nothing about cutting it back. The SNP has absolutely no mandate to make these cuts. To do so would be a betrayal of voters' trust.

“Humza Yousaf should go and read his own 2016 manifesto and ditch his plans to cut the bus pass, which have never been endorsed by the electorate.”

I am pleased that Dundee City Council unanimously opposed plans to cut the bus pass scheme. It was good that Dundee SNP councillors recognised just how unwelcome this cut would be.  We say no to cuts to bus passes.  I’ll be campaigning against cuts to the bus pass and for improved bus services.


Disappointed at Post Office Decision

The picture shows me campaigning with the CWU to protect the
Post Office along with Ed Balls before he was famous
disappointed at the decision of the Post Office to continue with plans for a franchised Post Office to replace the Crown Post Office in Dundee city centre.  On behalf of the Labour Group on Dundee City Council I responded to the consultation on the future of the Central Post Office and had made the case for Dundee retaining a Crown Post Office.  I am particularly disappointed that the Home Office Biometric Enrolment Service will be relocated to Perth, this is a service which is needed in a university city like Dundee.

As a city with a large student population I am disappointed that the Biometric Enrolment Service will not be retained in Dundee.  This will move to Perth which as the Post Office's response helpfully points out is a 65 minute bus journey away from the centre of Dundee.  This will be a major inconvenience for many overseas students, with the possibility of the numbers needing to use the service increasing after Brexit.  People will be able to pick up Biometric Residency Permit card from the Post Office in Dundee but in order to apply for the card they will need to travel to Perth.

I think that all of the changes which the Post Office are saying will be good about the new franchised Post Office could have been achieved whilst retaining the status of a Crown Post Office.  A more central location and longer opening hours could have been achieved if the management of the Post Office were minded to implement those changes.

I hope that all existing staff are looked after.  I have concerns that in a city where our ambition is to be a Living Wage City we are seeing a Living Wage employer leave.

I am very disappointed that the Post Office has not listened to the views which I put forward on behalf of the Labour Group.  I think that Dundee should have a Crown Post Office and that we will see in years to come that this was the wrong decision.


Welcome for Decision to Revisit Residents' Car Parking Scheme

I welcome the decision by Dundee City Council to revisit the issue of a residents' car parking scheme in the West End of Dundee.  At the November meeting of the West End Community Council the Depute Convener of City Development Councillor Mark Flynn announced that Dundee City Council will be revisiting the issue of a residents 'car parking scheme in the West End.

I have been consistent in asking for action on this important issue.

I welcome this announcement.  It is good that the City Council has listened to my concerns and the concerns of other local residents.   This welcome news and it recognises that something needs done.

Residents in the West End have raised concerns about not being a able to park near their house.  I welcomed the announcement from Councillor Mark Flynn tonight.  It is a very welcome change of heart from the Administration of the City Council.  It is important that the council learns the lessons of the previous attempt at implementing a residents parking scheme.  There can be no one size fits all solution.  We need may need different solutions in different streets.  We also need to recognise that the biggest problem with the previous proposals was that the proposed cost of £80 was just too high.

We also need to do all that we can to cut back on demand for car parking spaces.  We need to do all that we can to cut back on the number of people using their cars and coming and parking in the West End.  We also need to be wary of unintended consequences of any proposals, we need to be careful about merely moving the problem.

The devil will be in the detail of these proposals and it is important that local people have their say over the proposals when they are brought forward.  The council needs to listen to local people and deliver on proposals which they support.  I am pleased to see action at long last.

The video here is from October 2015 and it sums up my views on what is needed  - no one-size-fits-all approach and a need for clarity about the future.

Need to deal with Gig Economy

Recently I was asked about my views on companies like Deliveroo operating in Dundee.  I am happy to hear about businesses doing well in Dundee, but I am also clear that we need to make sure that people have a good quality job.

In my view a good quality job includes things like a good rate of pay and I agree with the report of Dundee Fairnesss Commission which wanted Dundee to be a Living Wage city.  People also need to have a clear expectation of what hours they are going to work and their income from week to week.

The ambition of the city is to a be a Living Wage employer: that’s what the Fairness Commission said and we should be looking to give people reliable and sustainable income.

I know a lot of people do like the flexibility of what is known as ‘the gig economy’ but there are people doing these jobs because they have no other alternative.

It’s good to see business doing well and coming into the city but we need to make sure the dignity of workers is always recognised.

I was recently at the Co-operative Party conference where Jeremy Corbyn spoke about the need to embrace these new digital platform. 

Jeremy Corbyn said at the Co-operative Party Conference,

'The top-down model of organisation, whether in politics, the media or in business, is being challenged and is breaking down.

The technology of the digital age should be empowering workers, enabling us to co-operate on a scale not possible before and yet too often it has enabled a more rapacious and exploitative form of capitalism to emerge.

Look at Uber, Deliveroo, and others. The platforms these companies use are the technologies of the future. But, too often, their business models depend not on technological advantage, but on establishing an effective monopoly in their market and using it to drive wages and conditions through the floor.

Governments have to make sure that regulation keeps pace with changing technologies.
But sensible regulation of working conditions would not only improve the lot of existing workers – and yes, despite what some firms try to claim, they are workers – it would mean that new businesses could survive in the market.

Digital platforms are opening up huge opportunities for horizontal, more democratic, forms of organisation to flourish.
Imagine an Uber run co-operatively by their drivers, collectively controlling their futures, agreeing their own pay and conditions, with profits shared or re-invested. The next Labour Government, working with you, can make that a reality.

The biggest obstacle to this is not technological but ourselves. We must have the confidence and organisational skill to make it happen. That’s why we commissioned our report on Alternative Models of Ownership. To start asking fundamental questions about who should own our economy in the digital age, and how to ensure that it’s enormous potential benefits serve the many, not the few.

Its authors recommend that co-operatives be supported by government through access to finance, through legal changes to level the playing field for cooperatives in the market, and through a better government procurement policy, so that public money is being used to support companies that serve the public good.

To prevent just the few benefiting from the “rise of the robots” the report suggests we consider higher minimum wages, a shorter working week, profit sharing schemes, or putting the ownership and control of the robots in the hands of those who work with them and come to rely on them.

We don’t have all the answers yet but are thinking radically about how we can shape the next thirty years to use the power of new technology to make our economy work for the many not the few.'

We need to ensure that the economy is run democratically and ensure that every worker is treated fairly and with dignity.


Exempt Police Scotland & Scottish Fire & Rescue Service from VAT - Pay back the £140 million

Tonight at Dundee City Council's Community Safety & Public Protection Committee the Labour Group called for a VAT exemption for Police Scotland and for the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service and for a refund of the £140 million they have paid in VAT since 2012.  The way in which the Scottish Government set up the centralised police and fire service made them eligible to pay VAT, this was pointed out to the Scottish Government at the time these bodies were set up. 

At a recent meeting of Dundee City Council's Community Safety & Public Protection Committee the local commander of the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service was unable to give any guarantees about the future of any of their services in Dundee due to the extent of cuts they face.  On Monday evening Dundee City Council decided to write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the VAT charge levied on Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service.  Labour is demanding that he exempt both Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service from VAT and reimburse the £140 million paid since 2012, we're looking for the Scottish Government, Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service to commit to protecting services in Dundee.

I am determined to protect police and fire services and jobs in Dundee.  The Labour Group will work with other political groups, with trade unions and with the local community to protect crucial police and fire services in Dundee.

The Scottish Government got in wrong in the way in which these centralised services were set up. There is little to be gained in point scoring about this.  We should accept that a mistake has been made and we should move on to find the best solution.  The Labour Group is calling for both Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to be exempted from VAT and for the UK Treasury to reimburse them the £140 million which they have already taken from these hard-pressed services.

The Labour Group was shocked to hear that the local commander of the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service could not guarantee any services in Dundee due to expected budget cuts.  We are calling on the UK Government to stop taking this level of funding out of these important services.  We are also calling on the Scottish Government, Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service to commit to funding services in Dundee at a level which means that there will be no closures of services and that there will be no further diminution of services in Dundee.

I was pleased that there was quite strong cross-party support for the motion which I moved.  It was disappointing that in the end the council's administration was unable to follow the logic of their own motion and demand support for police and fire services from the Scottish Government and from the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Board.

I will be writing to the Chancellor demanding that Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service are exempted from VAT and that the £140 million is reimbursed.  I will also be writing to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution, the Scottish POlice Authority and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Board seeking a reassurance about the future of police and fire services in Dundee.  This is important to protect services and give local people the reassurance that they need.


Ryehill Police Station Saved for Now

Campaigning to a save Ryehill Police Station
with amongst others Jenny Marra MSP
I welcome the fact that Ryehill Police Station appears to have won a reprieve for now and will remain open.  Police Scotland have published their consultation on their Estate Change Project and Ryehill Police Office was excluded from the consultation.  I have also received a response from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson MSP where he says that there are 'no immediate plans for that police station.'

This time last year I was running a petition against the proposed closure of Ryehill Police Station along with the local community and Jenny Marra MSP.  At that time Police Scotland were keen to close Ryehill Police Station.  They subsequently kicked that proposal into the long grass.  Therefore I was concerned to hear that Police Scotland were publishing a consultation on property closures.  I am glad that Ryehill Police Station has not been included in the current consultation.  I welcome the response which I have received from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice which does say that it is not part of the current consultation.  Michael Matheson's response is welcome but it is clear from it that there are no long-term guarantees for Ryehill Police Station.

I will be keeping a close eye on Police Scotland to ensure that Ryehill Police Station remains open. I would also like to see Police Scotland use the facility more.

As a local resident and a local councillor I am clear that people in the West End want to see Ryehill Police Station remain open.  Local people are looking for the reassurance of a public facing police presence in our community.  I will continue to campaign to protect services in my area and I will be watching to ensure that Ryehill Police Station remains open.


Invest in the Perth Road

Along with the Community Council and my council ward colleagues I am calling for investment to improve the shopping experience on the Perth Road.

As a local councillor and a local resident I know how important it is to maintain the Perth Road as a vibrant shopping district.  I think that branding for the area would be a good idea.  I also think that we should have a good look at street furniture and the state of the pavements.  It would be good to see if there were any areas on the Perth Road which would lend themselves to being a new area for seating or public art.

Car parking is an issue that has been raised with me time after time.  I want the council to look at what it can do to ensure a regular turnover of car parking in the shopping area.  I also want to see what can be done to make the area more attractive for cyclists and walkers.

Those of us who live in the West End are lucky to have access to the wide variety of shops, restaurants, cafes and pubs which are found on the Perth Road.  These are also good for the whole city. 

I am concerned that regular roadworks over the last few years have had a detrimental impact on the shopping area.  This is why I have been calling for much better co-ordination of roadworks.  We need to do what we can to protect the local shopping area.

I want to see action from the council, before too long to deliver on some of the priorities which have been agreed on.  I want to hear from local traders and from local residents about their priorities for the Perth Road.  I want to work with the West End Community Council to ensure that we are doing all that we can to promote the Perth Road.


Homelessness Far from Fixed

Last week I was pleased to join my colleague Councillor Brian Gordon, who is Dundee Labour's spokesperson on Neighbourhood Services which includes housing issues, in supporting Shelter Scotland's work.  I am a long-standing supporter of Shelter's work and I have previously signed up to their Homelessness Far From Fixed campaign.

It is good to hear that the Scottish Government are looking to allocate more resources to tackling homelessness.  I am looking forward to finding out what that will mean here in Dundee.  We need to look to deliver good quality homes for all our people.


End tax on ill-health & NHS workers

Cars parked all the way along Ninewells Avenue avoiding the charges
I am calling for an end to car parking charges at Ninewells Hospital, which is in the West End ward.  I have been calling for the end to this policy since 2009.  This policy is a further cost to NHS staff who have suffered years of pay freezes.  I am clear that there is no such thing as a 'free' car parking space, they must be paid for in some way and must also be regulated. 

I want to see an end to car parking charges at Ninewells.  If free car parking at hospitals is the policy of the Scottish Government then it should apply in Dundee just as much as anywhere else in Scotland. Taxpayers in Dundee are paying for 'free' car parking at hospitals across Scotland.   I know that I will be told that Labour agreed to the contract, if the Scottish Government thinks free car parking is the way forward then the contract should be bought out in Dundee.  I want to do what is right for my community not worry about the rights and wrongs and political point scoring of who made the original decision.

We should also be clear that 'free' car parking is a cost to the NHS budget nationally.  In Dundee charging for car parking is a further tax on NHS staff and ill people and their families and friends.  I am not advocating a free for all at Ninewells just that staff should be able to get free parking when they are working and that people attending for appointments or for reasonable visiting should also get free spaces.

We must also do all that we can to make Ninewells accessible to people without the need to take their car to the hospital.  The current policy either penalises those who pay or encourages others to park in the surrounding streets becoming a nuisance to many of my constituents.  I have written to NHS Tayside and to the Cabinet Secretary for Health about this issue.